Breaking the ‘sound barrier to science’ at Winchester Science Centre
Winchester Science Centre is a giant concrete, steel and glass pyramid filled with novel exhibits that have brought science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) to the public since 2002. The Centre seized the opportunity provided by Covid-19 lockdowns to improve acoustic conditions by identifying the venue’s “noise hot-spots” and applying a variety of Ecophon’s sound-absorbent solutions. The result is a space that is more enjoyable for all visitors as well as more accessible for those with sensory impairments or sensitivities.
At Winchester Science Centre, inclusivity is a core commitment.
“No two visitors are the same. Everyone has different needs when they visit us, from the exhibits they enjoy and the interaction they require to the information they receive and the facilities they use,” says Ben Ward, Chief Executive Officer of Winchester Science Centre.
Improving the acoustics has been an essential step in making the Centre accessible to people with special education needs (SEN).
“The new acoustics are the next exciting stage in this project and we can’t wait to see what our visitors think.” When designing the innovative pyramid-shaped structure, how sound would behave in a large, open space with hard, sound-reflective surfaces once hundreds of visitors filled the building was not given much initial consideration. Peter Rogers, the Managing Director of Winchester-based acoustics consultancy Sustainable Acoustics found that baseline measurements of reverberation time in the speech range was typically well over 2.5 seconds – less than ideal for speech intelligibility.
“When the volume is acoustically excited by activity in the space, the noise build-up is quite dramatic and presents an obstacle to the visitor’s experience."
“Our role has been to curate an intervention that combined a significant change to finishes within the building, but also worked with the design of the exhibits themselves to provide diffusion and absorption in the space. The most significant intervention came with the creative involvement of Ecophon in the project, allowing the full range of their absorbers to be used to dramatic effect. Our modelling is aiming for a significant improvement in the speech region, in key areas to improve the visitor experience and inspire all.”
As visitors arrive in the reception area, they are greeted by Ecophon’s aesthetically-pleasing wave-themed baffles, which have made a huge difference to the room acoustic comfort in the space. Super G wall panels have been installed in the “recombobulation room”, providing a serene and calm space where children can be taken when they need a break from the hustle and bustle of the Centre. Extra Bass was also strategically added to the ceiling and perforated box dividers that separate spaces in the Centre, to great effect on disruptive, low-frequency sounds. In the cafeteria, pink Solo free-hanging units along with a Focus raft reduce obtrusive sounds common to such environments.